Ashford, Lindsay Jayne. The Woman on the Orient Express.

Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016.

It’s a historical fact that in the fall of 1928, still recovering mentally from a very painful divorce and not wanting to be trapped by the press in England when her ex-husband married his mistress, Agatha Christie, already famous as the author of ten mystery novels (and also for her public bout of “amnesia”), anonymously crossed the Channel and boarded the Orient Express, headed for Baghdad.

But she wasn’t the only Englishwoman on the train with problems. There was also Katharine Keeling, talented artist and self-taught archaeologist, who had spent three seasons on the dig at Ur, working for Leonard Wooley, the most famous Orientalist of his time, and whom she now was basically being forced by the Bible-thumpers to marry in order to continue with the work she had come to love. (Have to maintain moral appearances, you know.) And there was young ex-debutant Nancy Nelson, fleeing after only a few months of marriage to a peer who had brought his mistress along on their honeymoon, and who had subsequently managed to get herself pregnant by yet another man. She hoped to find shelter with a female cousin working for the Foreign Office in Baghdad, but when news came of the other woman’s sudden death, Nancy could think of only one way out of her shameful situation. But there was also the dashing Max Mallowan, a decade younger than Agatha, but who was also very interested in her as a woman, and who would play a key role in the stories of all three women.

This is the sort of thing that will automatically be pigeonholed as a “woman’s novel,” but that’s an unfair ghettoization. It’s rather melodramatic, certainly, but it’s also a well-plotted, well-written, and rather nerve-wracking piece of intrigue and adventure. The author has done deep research and the known lives of the participants (only Nancy is entirely fictional) are carefully and accurately woven into the story. The interpretations of a number of small mysteries and gaps in the historical record are Ashford’s own, but all of them are plausible. In fact, you may find yourself seeking out Christie’s and Woolley’s memoirs after you finish. This one will fill a long weekend very nicely indeed.


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